University College Cork Students' Union has defended its decision to go ahead with a virtual freshers' week, despite local residents calling for the event to be cancelled amid fears it will lead to house parties that could spread Covid-19.
Interim UCC president, Prof John O’Halloran has also urged the UCC Students’ Union to cancel the virtual freshers’ week, expressing concern that although online, it will lead to students congregating in houses.
"We have appealed to your Student Union to cancel or defer virtual freshers' week; the university cannot support its operation," said Prof O'Halloran in an email sent to all of the university's 22,000 students.
“Even though many of these events are online, our deep concern is that they will lead to gatherings at a time when our country needs us to minimise our contacts.”
Catherine Clancy, chairperson of the Magazine Road residents' association also expressed concern that the virtual freshers' week could lead to students hosting house parties which could spread Covid-19 in Cork.
“Freshers’ week has always been a difficult week for us but when we heard Taoiseach Micheál Martin say last week the figures in Cork were worrying, we became very concerned,” Ms Clancy told The Opinion Line on Cork’s 96FM.
"The spread of the Covid virus is up to each and every one of us and as the acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said it's not inevitable that we move to Level 3 restrictions, it's only inevitable if we don't do what we are being asked to do.
“We were told that the students’ union is going to hold something called a virtual freshers’ week but there is no such thing as a virtual freshers’ week as far as we, as residents are concerned, because it will have a real impact on us.
“There will be real house parties, there will be real queues outside the pubs and real queues outside shops with people buying drink and we saw it last night with young people passing us, weighed down with slabs of beer and cider.”
However Beth O’Reilly of UCC Students’ Union strongly rejected Ms Clancy’s assertion that holding virtual events is going to lead to people hosting house parties in breach of government guidelines on social gatherings.
“I think the events we have lined up for this week are very different to what residents and UCC themselves have been stating – our events definitely are not encouraging people to get together,” she told the same radio programme.
“The virtual freshers’ week is completely online and there are no events where we have any presence ... they are live streamed from [UCC] societies which we have been doing all summer and never had any issue with.
“Any events which feature an artist or a band, they either recorded themselves at their home or we pre-recorded them in venues around Cork with social distancing – it really is the safest option we can offer people.
“Virtual events literally pose no risk to the student body – we’ve all been told the safest way to hold any event is to do them online – we will be using a platform called Twitch to see what numbers are watching the various events.”
The Magazine Road residents’ association campaigned throughout the summer against student parties being held in rented properties around UCC which they said posed a real risk of spreading Covid-19 in the local community.
They also obtained a court order obliging a landlord to cut noise levels at two of his properties where tenants were holding lockdown parties after they brought a private prosecution for noise pollution under environmental laws.